Haleimah Darwish

"The Perfect Compass"

Section MS5, Bahar Noorizadeh

Keywords: model-making, objects, decolonising knowledge, technology

Our history displays that for a long time technology and machines have been seen as means to aid the human condition: From modest stone tools to the iron and Bronze Age, technology augmented human’s capacity for survival. The ancient Greek legend of Icarus and Daedalus communicated the story of augmenting humans with wings so they could fly like birds. Life imitates art in a story of man and machine working in parallel for the advancement of the human condition.

During the 9th century in Baghdad, The Banu Masu brothers were among the first to build the foundations of our future with technology in their publication the Kitab al-Hiyal, demonstrating their mastery of mechanics. Building on their foundational work, Abu al-Quhi a Persian mathematician, physicist and astronomer who flourished in Baghdad in the 10th century and is considered one of the greatest Muslim geometers. He invented the first conic compass to draw circles, ellipses, parabolas and hyperbolas. The perfect compass is not only useful in mathematics but also a valuable tool in technological areas such as the construction of sundials and astrolabes where conics are vital. Towards the end of the Middle Ages the device disappears and makes a return during the Renaissance period as a drawing tool, the compass became a symbol of mathematics, science and philosophy and to symbolise the imposition of order on chaos as seen in many of William Blake’s drawings.

The history of science and technology demonstrates that scientific theories never emerge from nothing; the scientist defines, builds and investigates various examples before proposing an analysis or a system. The scientific advances around the perfect compass in the Islamic world show a model of such a development, always evolving itself and its historical foundations. I will focus on mediating Al-Quih’s original drawing of the perfect compass and recreating it using evolved technological processes to explore the development of his contributions and to delink it from the narrative that the history of civilization has been culminated in Europe. The compass becomes a symbol of freedom and unified advancements towards the progression of mathematics, science and art.